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John Harvard's Journal

Tenure Task Forces

May-June 2005

Addressing ambitious agendas and a May 1 deadline, the University’s twin task forces on women faculty and on women in science and engineering are working under a self-imposed news blackout until they report their completed findings. President Lawrence H. Summers announced their creation on February 3 in response to the controversy over his remarks at a January conference on women in academic science and engineering (see “Gender Gap,” March-April, page 62).

In forming the groups, coordinated by Radcliffe Institute dean Drew Gilpin Faust, an historian, Summers said, “It is time for Harvard to step up and affirm in strong and concrete terms its commitment to the advancement and support of women pursuing academic careers.” These task forces, Faust said, “will focus on …specific measures that can make a significant difference for women at the University.” The May 1 deadline was set so proposals can be implemented for the 2005-2006 academic year.

The task force on women faculty, chaired by Evelynn Hammonds, professor of the history of science and of African and African American studies, was asked to focus on “concrete measures designed to promote gender diversity in faculty ranks and in academic leadership positions across the University.” Joining Hammonds are 13 faculty members and deans from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and schools of business, design, divinity, government, law, medicine, and public health.

In particular, the task force is to evaluate a new “senior position” in the central administration that will consider, implement, and monitor “new and continuing efforts to enhance gender diversity on the faculty” throughout the University—an echo of the request by women in FAS for reinstatement of a senior deanship responsible for diversity (see “Tenure and Gender,” January-February, page 64). Other subjects for inquiry include evaluating ways to improve searches; pursuing options to support career development and ensure that women are “fully…considered for positions of leadership”; and enhancing support for “faculty members balancing…work and family.” The task force will also pay attention to the obstacles facing minority women in academia.

The task force on women in science and engineering is chaired by Barbara J. Grosz, Higgins professor of natural sciences and dean of science at the Radcliffe Institute. In 1991, she oversaw preparation of a report on junior-faculty and graduate-student women in the sciences that first crystallized many issues being addressed again today. Now, Grosz and colleagues from FAS and the schools of medicine and public health are charged with “identifying factors that contribute in some way to the under-representation of women at various career stages; compiling successful strategies developed [elsewhere] to counter these factors and tailoring them as necessary to meet Harvard’s specific challenges”; and formulating new programs—again with due regard to the barriers facing minority women in these academic fields.

Specific areas of inquiry include identifying and encouraging “excellent women to apply for junior-faculty positions” and bettering search processes and recruitment to enhance chances that such candidates are identified and hired; improving faculty retention by ensuring equitable access to research support; paying “adequate attention to problems of implicit bias” so women are promoted fairly to named chairs and leadership positions; and ensuring that senior women scientists have “opportunities to participate fully in all large-scale science initiatives.”

As the task forces began work, FAS dean William C. Kirby disseminated a letter to alumni dated March 1. Noting that “We share, and not to our glory, records of less than stellar achievement” in hiring women faculty, he outlined anew steps FAS is taking to overcome academia’s “long history of...insufficiently effective efforts at genuine change.” These include review of all searches to ensure that candidate lists are broad, and inclusion of women on all ad hoc committees for tenured appointments. He expressed support for changes in a culture that now inhibits use of teaching leaves or stopping of the tenure clock for family reasons, and pointed to impending retirements and the rise of women from the junior-faculty ranks as opportunities for enhancing diversity.

The task forces’ membership and missions are available at www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/daily/2005/02/03-taskforce1.html. A report on their findings and recommendations will be posted at the magazine’s website, www.harvardmagazine.com, as soon as they are released, followed by coverage in the July-August issue.